How to avoid falling asleep at work

Give your workday a literal wakeup call.

How to avoid falling asleep at work

Don't get caught falling asleep at work.

You're sitting in a meeting when you can feel yourself falling asleep at work. It’s not even that the meeting is boring—although TBH your manager could be a tad less monotone—you’re just tired.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, almost a third of employees report falling asleep or becoming very sleepy at work. It also reports that lack of sleep results in $63 billion of lost productivity each year. Sometimes you can pinpoint exactly why you’re tired, like if you were up too late the night before or are working long hours at the office, but there may be other factors that are contributing to your penchant for sleeping on the job.

“The time is overdue for corporate America to support appropriate napping in the workplace,” says Terry Cralle, RN, certified clinical sleep educator and spokeswoman for the Better Sleep Council. Research has found that a natural urge to nap in the afternoon is a remnant from early sleeping habits consisting of two sleep periods instead of one, not a consolidated eight-hour stretch of sleep. When that urge comes in the middle of the work day, it can cause problems.

The stigma against daily naps for adults makes no sense, particularly when people see what happens to young children when they need naps, Cralle says. The differences between a well-rested child and a tired one are obvious, she says, but when you see an adult snapping at a co-worker, behaving unethically, or being unproductive, you may not realize those are similar behaviors stemming from being sleep-deprived.

Besides lost productivity and crankiness, liability is an important issue to consider when deciding whether to allow employees nap time. “A tired employee is at a greater risk for on-the-job accidents," Cralle says. "Forward-thinking corporations have provided the option of sanctioned and appropriate napping in the workplace implementing onsite naps facilities.” Many successful companies encourage employees to take naps, she says.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 20- to 30-minute naps to boost short-term alertness, and says cool, quiet environments are best for napping. Not all positions in a company are conducive to stepping away to take a nap. For those employees, it’s still important to take regular breaks. These tips can help.

Move more

Make working out part of your morning routine. By exercising in the morning, you’ll feel more energized throughout the day. It also means you are more likely to get your workout in because you could have to work late or get tempted by an impromptu dinner invite with friends. If you’ve been feeling sleepy, there is another reason you should get your sweat in during the morning—the evening energy boost can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

Exercising is also great for boosting your immune system and decreasing stress so you are on your A-game. Get a mid-day jolt too; it can be as simple as taking a walk around the office or the block, or doing some stretches at your desk.

Focus on your nutrition

Eat nutritious meals throughout the day and think about what you’re eating...and when. For better sleep, the National Sleep Foundation recommends eating a balanced diet that is high on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat proteins that are rich in B vitamins, like fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy. The organization also recommends avoiding foods and drinks with caffeine and added sugar a few hours before bedtime. That includes some faves like coffee, chocolate, ice cream and frozen yogurt, cake and cookies, and soda.

If you often find that you want to nod off after lunch, think about what you are eating for lunch. The National Sleep Foundation suggests swapping carbohydrate-loaded foods like white bread, white rice, regular pasta, and chips with their whole-grain counterparts. Stay hydrated throughout the day and, if you’re feeling extra sleepy, sip some ice water.

Get enough sleep

If you're falling asleep at work, chances are you're not getting enough restful sleep at night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends waking up and going to sleep around the same time each day, keeping your room as cool as the other side of the pillow, perfecting your relaxing evening routine, and not using electronics that emit blue light (like tablets, televisions, and your smartphone) at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If you are having trouble falling and staying asleep, talk to your doctor.

Beat boredom

You should always be engaged at work but if you are bored, try to mix things up a bit. Switch tasks, work on the assignment on your to-do list that excites or challenges you the most. If you’ve checked your to-do list for a few weeks and nothing moves you, talk to your boss and see if you can take on new responsibilities. Be proactive and recommend projects that you can do to make improvements or solve problems.

Falling asleep at work is embarrassing, yes, but it's also an indication that something else might be wrong. Want to know more tips to help you keep track of your well-being at work? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get insights to your professional development, career advice, and job search tips sent directly to your inbox. Let Monster give your career a wake-up call.